Expat Life

The England That Only Exists In My Mind

Clearly England is ancient and there have been millions of books set in England. But growing up in America, I was obsessed with the idea of England. I used to daydream about being adopted by an English family and having a rose garden, eating cakes, drinking tea and wearing a floppy hat. (Sorry real family.) I had a particular list of books in my mind that represented the idea of England to me.

A sign of having too much time on my hands. Books by map location

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Set in a rural, ruined castle, location never specified. Do NOT watch the film. It’s bad. But the book? Brilliant.

2. The Collected Works of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. London (for the most part). I was borderline obsessed with Sherlock Holmes growing up. I blame it on the fact that “The Great Mouse Detective” was my favorite film as a kid.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Northern England. One word: Rochester. So angry, so sad, so sexy. Michael Fassbender and his enormous junk were the obvious casting choice for the 2011 film.

4. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Devonshire. I LOVE me some Austen. I’ve read everything that’s been published, including some really lackluster short stories. But S & S is probably my favourite, but it’s a close battle.

5. Tess D’urberville by Thomas Hardy. Wessex. Men are pigs, even the ones you think are the good ones. Or that’s what I took the point of this book to be. I’ve run with that idea ever since.

6. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling. (Sorry, not sorry) There was no way I’d make this list and not put HP on it. My childhood ended with the release of the last book. I’ll never forgive Rowling for what she did to Dumbledore. Also did anyone else notice that the “medical” cure to most injuries at Hogwarts was chocolate?

7. His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman. So this isn’t really England. It’s a fantasy version of Oxford. I say it counts. When I finished this series I cried for days. Love sucks.

8. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R King. Sussex Downs. A brilliant Sherlock Holmes spinoff where he has a spunky, crazy intelligent, American, female sidekick. There have been rumors about this being made into a film for years. So far nothing. Thank goodness, because clearly I am the PERFECT casting for this.

9. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. North Yorkshire. Surely I wasn’t the only girl running around my backyard yelling, “Wick!” and wishing for my own Dickon, right? He was definitely my first literary crush.  Actually since Sam’s from that part of the world I feel really Freudian about this now…. (Hey Sam, do you think you’ll read the Yorkshire dialect bits out loud to me? Thanks.)

10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Yorkshire Moors. I hate Heathcliff and Cathy, but that’s part of the appeal of the book right?

11. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Oxford, Wiltshire, London. Summary: everyone is miserable.


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  • gladley

    Heh heh, great map. Harry Potter should cover most of Scotland.

    • I was going to put HP in Scotland, but then I changed my mind as London/King’s Cross/Diagon Alley are super pivotal as well. That’s why it sadly gets classification of unlisted. Otherwise I’d put it everywhere.

      PS- I don’t know if you know this but you’re a “no reply” blogger which is why I never get to respond to your lovely comments with emails!

  • This is such a great list and I’ve actually read half of these books. Thanks to that, I pictured England full of castles and secret gardens around every corner! Haha.

  • lost in travels

    ok these are automatically going on my reading list for this summer! thanks for linking up with us!

  • I’m reading #4 right now for the #janeaustenbookclub

  • Rachel

    Love #4 and #9 – obviously! Thank you for linking up with us!

  • Gina Howie

    I am half way through #4 right now (#janeaustenbookclub) Not sure how I feel about it yet… Good to hear that S&S is your favorite. I will persevere.

  • Emma C

    Fantastic post!

  • Amanda, why are you the cutest little genius, though?? Haha this is an AMAZING list and fantastic map (go you!) Can we talk about how Sense and Sensibility is my favorite, too. I re-read it often, Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet are my favorite, and I definitely start talking it ridiculously long, sometimes not so easily comprehensible sentences whenever I overdose on Jane Austen. Love all these books, and I think I’m only just realizing I’m obsessed with England too. Oops maybe I picked the wrong country. Wonder if the boyf will move….

    • Hahahah it’s just that literature set in England tends to be so sweeting and romantic that it’s really hard to resist! x

      • It’s so true! Just sweeping and romantic is all I can think of. In Ireland, people love the lush green midlands and the sunshiney southern coast, and so do I. Very quaint and perfect. But I absolutely adore the rocky, wild west, and it’s mostly because it makes me think of the Brontës….

  • This is amazing! I too had similar daydreaming fantasies about England;)